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Happy New Year and hello to January of 2018.
I have been quiet for some time on my blog now. I have struggled these past two months or so, with a really difficult feeling of not knowing what to write, feeling awkward writing anything, and just experiencing a disquieting eerieness about the whole situation. I never usually have trouble writing, even if its just lines in my diary. I find the process soothing, and for me, a way of making sense of my days. So to be stuck in the middle of an unwelcome and bewildering silence has made me lose my confidence a little.
To be honest, writing now, feels like that first clumsy and stiff morning on your first day back at school from a long summer holiday; when you find yourself holding a new pencil in your hand, and it feels as though you are holding a plank of wood between your fingers.
The ideas and thoughts for this post, therefore, have come from that sense of alienation and worry I experienced, feeling a little lost without the words to express what I was thinking about, and in truth, not having any clarity of thought anyway. A combination of Christmas, the Winter Solstice, New Year and the enevitable quietness of January have all given me some time for reflection. And perhaps, afterall, that is what I have needed. Perhaps I just need to start from the beginning again.
Coincidentally I have also spent most of this new year thinking and reflecting. I have been following a process called the January Book. Devised by the sylist and writer Hannah Bullivant (I found out about it via her amazing instagram account, and her beautiful website, which you can find at http://www.seedsandstitches.com), it is a way of outlining plans for your coming year by focusing on key areas of your life, dividing them into catergories such as family, career, finances and home, and by a process of reflecting on those areas, making a sustainable plan for the year ahead.
And in addition, we have been having a little more renovation to our home (from having a door made for the bathroom, where previously there was none) to having a partition wall put up between the living room and the sunroom (a rather grand term for what really is a little extension with a perspex roof) It has meant a lot of noise, a lot of mud and mess, and a feeling of being completely overwhelmed at having to tidy up ready for the next day, and not knowing where to begin.
But most of all I am really starting to notice a gathering change in my two little girls, as they are growing up from babies to little toddlers, and it is this realisation that has had the biggest emotional effect on me overall. I have loved every moment of them being babies – and the poignant reminder that if my IVF treatment hadn’t been succesful I would never have been able to experience any of it, has made it even more so.
And it is there I suspect all the answers to my wordless stories lie. Being quiet was neccesary for some thinking, and all my thinking was about change – and in reflecting on change, I began to see that it was all about letting go.
There is something about glitter on home made Christmas cards that makes me feel safe and warm. Trying to describe it to you now, it feels like this: I catch a half glimpse of a half-memory; the contents of small tubes of brightly coloured glitter – silver, red, green and gold – pouring out onto a blank piece of paper, to be made into a card, possibly to be given to my Mum and Dad.
I have also woven other elements into this vignette. A window, outside of which leaves of gold swirl in the mist. A warm radiator. An anticipated thought that I will be wearing a woollen scarf later when I go outside. There is also a larger sense of family somewhere. Belonging to people. Home. Whispered children’s breath misting up a window pane. Fingertips making steamy circles on the warmed up glass.
This particular memory comes back to me every year in early Autumn. Its arrival feels like welcoming an old friend, ‘Ah, there you are, come and have a seat at my table.’ I am aware it is nostalgia but it doesn’t really matter. It is a memory. Through memory and imagining, Autumn has become a falling cascade of glitter and leaves. Who wouldn’t want to remember that?
But It isn’t just the glitter and the leaves that make me feel this way. As I grow older, memories of warmth and safety become infused with ideas of love and morality, decency and goodness. All these truths inform my world, by wrapping themselves around it like a cloak made of velvet. At times when you are faced with uncertainty and unpredictability, these are the beacons that can guide you home to your soul.
So what exactly are these truths? For me, like those small tubes of glitter, they are often little things and in themselves, perhaps nothing much at all. A line from a book. A poem. A letter weathered from being unfolded and read many times over. Music. A kind gesture from someone that you return to again and again, possibly only realising its significance to you much later on. Kindness. Kindness. Kindness. These all contribute towards a much greater picture, a living memory that chimes by your side, as a kind of compass reminding you of who you are, or even a guide back towards the person who you want to be.
And perhaps after all – the lessons we should learn about memories and love are really quite simple after all. If we think of them as touchstones and totems by which we can measure our present and future selves. By being grateful for the things that have touched us and by what we choose to remember with love.
Last weekend my lovely friend, Richard, came to stay. It was a Sunday afternoon, The kind of slightly damp, not very cheerful afternoon that makes you want to light the fire and settle in. We had walked the dogs, the girls had run around outside, in the mizzle and in their wellies. And we were now at home, reading the Sunday paper, drinking tea and watching the girls.
I leant over to the section of the paper that neither of us were likely to read (the Sport, sorry) and I tried to make a paper hat. You know the kind. A basic paper hat, made from newspaper. A proper thrifty, make-do-and-mend paper hat. And something I used to make all the time when I worked with children. But the thing was I just couldn’t remember how to make one. And it really, really annoyed me.
(In the end I ended up making two very strange paper bonnets, that made the girls look like characters from Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale.)
So, in lieu of that failure, I have decided to add a category here of easy to make, old-fashioned, activities and objects. And my first post will definitely be that paper hat!
I would love to have had a sister….
One of the things I loved most when I discovered I was expecting twin girls, was the thought that they would always have each another. From the very beginning, sharing a womb together, then when they were born, those first few days of being swaddled together in one blanket; their little noses pressed against one another.
When the nurse first came to me after they were born, she asked if I wanted them in separate cots. But I knew I wanted them to be kept together, it didn’t seem right to separate them so quickly and so decisively, with no discernible reason as to why it would need doing. I remember one night when Eliza was crying, I watched as Florence put her hand instinctively into Eliza’s mouth, and let her suck her fingers for comfort. It was the most beautiful thing I had seen and told me so much about how these two girls felt. in separate cots, there would have been little opportunity for them to comfort one another.
A year and a half later and they no longer share a cot, but each have their own, side by side with one another still. . They can see each other, and I often hear them gurgling and cooing to one another, after I have left the room and tiptoed away. On waking, they always give each other a big smile and a kiss. These small gestures fill me with hope for the kind of bond they will have between them. Be loving, I whisper to them. Be loving, and be kind.
Sisters and friends…
When I was about 10 years old I had a notebook I carried around with me, and I would ask people to write things in it, poems, or doodles, drawings, elaborate signatures… I think I was looking for wisdom, back then, collecting folklore from people, and building up stories that people told me. It was my Dad, who wrote a little verse that has stuck in my head ever since. This is it
Make new friends but keep the old
Some in silver
Some in gold
At the time I remember him explaining that as we move through our life we meet, and make friends, with new and different people along the way. Some of them, the silver one’s, burn brightly and stay with us for awhile. Others, those in gold, stay by our sides, golden and eternal. It was something I desperately needed to hear at the time, I was being horribly bullied and desperately lonely at school. I wanted a friend, a best friend. It was something I asked my Mum all the time, when will I have a best friend? Having two daughters now, it breaks my heart a little to think of the little me that felt so lonely and wanted to make friends.
Fast forward a few years to a sixteen year old version of myself, with hennaed hair and Doc Martin boots; wearing White Musk by the Body Shop and obsessed with The Cure. I went to college and met my friend! A tall, graceful, curly haired girl with boots and thick black tights. I remember the toilets being flooded and feet sploshing in half a foot of water, we started talking – discovering in lightning quick time, as you are able to do at that age, that we had both been to Glastonbury and had lots and lots more in common.
That friendship was, and remains, the most important and cherished of my life so far. In my friendship I found all the things I was so desperate to find as a young girl – someone to share my secrets with, someone to laugh with and to talk about make up and boys with. And over the years we did just that. We grew up together, I guess, and no matter in which direction either of us went, we always managed to stay in the parallel lanes; we could always follow and appreciate each others path.
So when, in our early thirties our friendship came to a startling and bewildering halt, it felt like all the certainties I had carried around with me, in terms of who I was and what I would be, were suddenly all changed. I no longer had my best friend and that isolation felt particularly poignant when I came to be a Mum.
I was very lucky to meet a wonderful circle of women who all had babies at the same time as me. The support I got from these women during those long, but oddly blissful nights of the first few months was fantastic. Late night, what’s app messages, where we shared fears, and questions and asked for advice from one another. Without a partner, it was so important for me to have these women who gave me confidence and encouraged me. And it also occurred to me how these late night messages, shared in real time between women, was a relatively new and hugely meaningful mode of communication. It made me think of the real loneliness I had heard mothers sometimes speak of, feeling unsure, bewildered and having no one to turn to, or to ask for advice and support. We were able to call on each other, and to speak across the silences of our little rooms, nursing our babies, and ask one another ‘am I doing this right?’
Sisters and Social Media
Since then, I have actively sought out on-line support from a circle of on-line women, who I have found, and who I am able to gather experience, advice, inspiration and encouragement from. I have discovered amazingly beautiful blogs, fabulous Instagram accounts with great content, that are both inspiring and creative. These mediums, offer women, who don’t necessarily have that real life sister, best friend, mother or mother-in-law close by, a wonderful circle of sisters to learn from.
And with that, I have to say a big thank you to the following ladies who have been such a support to me over these last few months. Their online presence has meant a lot.
(a lovely, genuine kind, funny mum of two – you can find her on her website/blog, Instagram and YouTube)
(A wonderfully creative and inspiring blog and also brilliant Instagram account)
(A thoughtful, inspiring, nurturing and ethical blog and Instagram account lady)
(A totally amazing, supportive yoga teacher, who believes passionately in supporting mums and women, generally. Great Instagram account too).
We will soon be moving into our new home. The three of us together. These last few months have been a funny time ~ packing up, throwing out, sorting, discovering, discarding and making. Moving home is such a strange and unsettling thing. I have moved house more times than I care to mention. Some have been so unremarkable in their happening that I hardly remember them at all. Others have involved long distances and new countries. Leaving one home tore my heart open and took me a very long time to get over, so much so that I still dream of it. A kind of childhood Manderlay, unchanged and welcoming.
Having experienced moving so many times, it seems from experience and reflection, that the reason it unsettles and bothers us, is because in the packing of our things, it is as if we are literally dissembling our carefully built world we have spent so long spinning and gathering around ourselves. Now it is time we transfer and transform our new worlds into our new homes, and we do so knowing that we cannot help but be changed in the process of it. It is that change which is both unsettling and exciting, New beginnings, but which one? And who will we become because of it?
This move is different in many ways. I am now a home owner, swapping the fluctuating, precariously fragile world of house renting for something more responsible, more stable but daunting nonetheless. Gone are the days of gathering friends, and sometimes strangers to share with, making little families out of people you don’t really know. I know, with a deep sigh, that I will be able to find that sense of rootedness, which I have wanted for so long. To know that I won’t need to be on the move, unless it is of our choosing.
So, with all that in mind, I have been thinking about what kind of family life we will have in the house. what kind of family we will be. How we will we mark our days, how we will carve out the celebrations, occasions and the everyday of our family home. I think it will be about building our identities and weaving our memories. it will be the story of becoming us.
What does an ordinary day look like? The sun rises, the sun sets and a there is a day’s worth of living in-between. And the living in-between is the thing. Sometimes, a day can feel like a lifetime, and others go by so quickly that you barely have chance to look around you, before it has all passed you by, and you are saying goodnight to the moon.
Since becoming a Mum, one of the many, unexpected, things that I have learnt is the way that a day will tumble into the next, and that there is never any time in-between to absorb and reflect on any of the amazing things that you see, feel and experience along the way. Your heart can swell with love one moment, then tears spring to your eyes the next. The smallest thing, like her first teeth showing in a cheeky smile, or a chubby hand clutching at a flower – and suddenly that deep unfathomable well of love, and pride and disbelief at the total amazing beauty if it all, comes rushing to the surface.
Yet, as my friend told me the other day, these deep feelings can arise out of a day that can be sometimes so unremarkable in its banality and ordinariness. Days where its all about the continuing cycle of breakfast and dish washing, clothes washing and drying, vacuuming, more tidying, more cooking, washing and ……
But it is within those routines and inevitabilities that the beauty comes through. in the knowledge that you are doing what you are doing for your family, that the sacred moments of heart stopping love sustain you like nothing else on earth, and that the routine, ordinariness, and rituals you create, are what gives your family shape and cohesion. The act of doing all that, however dreary, tiring and repetitive is ultimately that which creates security and safety.
You do what you do, for them, and you do what you do for them out of love.
I made a conscious choice to have my children by myself, through IVF. Throughout my pregnancy I never felt alone or that something (or someone was missing). To me, it felt as it should be. My Mum and Dad were so kind and supportive, and I will always be so thankful to my Mum for helping me through those last stages of my pregnancy when I needed help to have a bath, get dressed and do just about anything really.
In those last few weeks I developed a horrible itchy rash, caused by an overload of female hormones from carrying twin girls. There wasn’t a second where my skin didn’t itch. My mum would help me into a bath – the only thing that seemed to temporarily relieve the pain – and sometimes at 3 in the morning, I would have to heave myself into the bath tub, sobbing my eyes out and feeling very miserable, whilst my mum patiently dabbed my skin with a soft cloth, telling me that everything would be OK. (Without a hint of weariness that she was repeating herself for the hundredth time that day.)
It was my Dad that came with me for the scan that would tell me that I was expecting twins. I will write about that part of the story later on, but enough to say that it seemed unlikely I was going to hear any heartbeats. My Dad drove me the two hour drive to Cardiff for my scan, and showed such kindness in a situation that could have been very, very difficult. Because of their kindness, I never felt alone or by myself, and when I came out of the scan room, holding my scan photo and smiling at my Dad, it was something I will always treasure.
Thank you, Mum and Dad for such kindness and love. May that I be able to give just as much to my daughters, should they ever need me to.
Now my children are entering their toddler stage, they will begin developing language and understanding that will broaden their understanding of the world and, in turn, their identity and place within it. I do think about our family structure, and whilst I know we are happy, and the girls are growing beautifully – I know there will come a time soon when I will begin to talk to them about our lovely little family and how we came to be. It is not our differences to others I want to emphasise – but perhaps our uniqueness. And above all, I want them to be very proud of how this family was made. It is the stuff of wonder, really.
I was out with some Mum friends and their children on Monday, and we were all sitting on the grass having a picnic and watching our children play together. One of my friends began to read a book to the children ‘I love my Daddy’, and I saw her look at me as if to say; ‘Is this OK?’, which, of course, it was. I make know secret of how much I love mine, and how proud of him I am, so I would want every child who had a father to feel the same.
Its just that my girls do not have a father, and I did think, and always have done, will they miss not having a Daddy? Will they mind too much when everyone else is talking about theirs?
I think it is times when I’m tired, when there isn’t anyone to breathe in the wonder of it all with me, that I think about what it means to parent by yourself. It can be tempting to get a bit serious, and worry a little too much, without that other person by your side to experience it with, and to maybe laugh with when you’re tired and things haven’t gone as smoothly as you hoped. Someone to bring you a cup of tea and place a safe arm around your shoulder.
But that really is about me, what I want for me, not neccesarily what my children want or need. And then, I remind myself… Let it be….Let it be…. I am raising two daughters who smother me in kisses, who smile and giggle and show all the signs of being inquisitive, loving, passionate girls. Everything is as it should be. I’m doing OK. x
Where to begin.
I really want to write and talk about my experience of fertility, making babies and the experience of having IVF treatment. After all, it seems to me I could not write about being a Mum, without writing about how I became one.
It isn’t because I have become a parent that I can write about my experiences, it is because enough time has passed by since receiving fertility treatment that I am able to reflect, remember, and describe what it was like, emotionally and physically.
In many ways, as blunt as it sounds, I had to put my metaphorical head down and get on with the process of IVF. I always keep a journal, particularly during periods of my life when I need to make sense of my feelings and thoughts. Yet during all that time, my diary lay unwritten and the pages empty of anything at all. I think, you see, that to write about what I was experiencing, would have meant that I would have to reflect on what I was experiencing, and I just don’t think I could have done the two things simultaneously. If I had allowed my feelings to be too engaged, I don’t think I could have managed it at all.
My decision to begin treatment was because of my age and I because I hadn’t met anyone with whom I could start a family with. I spent the majority of my thirties (not my happiest decade), in a state of tremendous fear, when all I could think about was my desperate desire to become a Mother, alongside trying to find someone to fall in love with, and for that same person to fall in love with me. Only then could I get on and do the one thing I always wanted to do above anything else.
Life and mother nature had other plans for me. I did fall in love, a couple of times and a couple of times, someone fell in love with me. But the trouble was they were never the same person. At the time it seemed, as it does for anyone trying to find someone to love, or if you are trying to make a baby, that everyone around me was falling in love and making babies. And whilst that was happening I became an Aunty, a God Mother, the owner of a dog.
The churning ball of emotions inside me kept rolling around, desperation that my time was running out and that I only had (counting the numbers on my fingers) so many years in which to conceive, before it was too late and both time and my fragile eggs ran out completely. I think I must have emanated panic, fear and exasperation. For any man that came close enough, the look in my eyes would have said it all. It was no surprise I didn’t find anyone. I must have come across as absolutely terrifying.
What I never expected to feel was the intense grief when I contemplated the reality of my life without being a Mum. It was an overwhelming sense of sadness, and I lost count of the times I would sob uncontrollably with what to me felt like a real and tangible sense of loss. I have heard other women talking about this too, and it seemed so unfair that biologically my opportunity for becoming a mother had to all intents and purposes a limited shelf life.
There has been much said, written and discussed about fertility, and the reality of conceiving when we are in our thirties and forties. For women who want to forge a career, and who postpone motherhood in order to be able to do so, for women like me who are just unlucky enough to not meet the right person, for women who cannot conceive for a variety of reasons – fertility is something that is right there at the forefront of our minds. Making babies is just something you imagine will happen. It is only when you start to try that you experience just how difficult that can be.
There is IVF, of course, but it isn’t an option for some people (it is expensive and not always available on the NHS). And if you do decide to try IVF, it is a process which is complicated, intrusive and very emotional. It has no guarantees. But there is hope and as you begin to find out more, please remember that for every sad story of IVF you hear and how it didn’t work, it is also wonderful when parents come up to you and say ‘Our daughter, our son were born through IVF’. With those stories comes hope. You go forward in hope and you try to remain grounded. For anyone thinking about beginning with IVF, it is that mantra I offer to you.
Go forward in hope and remain grounded.
Thank you for reading this piece. I will be writing the next part of my IVF story to follow on from here. I hope to see you then. x
This Spring has been lovely. We have just had some wonderfully hot days, where the three of us have been out beneath the sun, walking with the dogs, or busy down at the allotment, fretting over the courgette plants Grandad grew for us from seed in his greenhouse.
With the house move still not completed, and with building work still to be finished, I find that at the moment I feel very in-between with homes, and it very much feels like a waiting game. So to banish those feelings of rootlessness and restlessness, which always leave me feeling a little twitchy and unsettled, I find I am spending more time outdoors to find some balance and patience.
We are enjoying the warmth. I am enjoying watching the girls playing on the grass, discovering soil and getting their hands and feet dirty. (Why is that the sight of my daughters’ dirty toes at the end of the day fills me with an inexplicable sense of love and pride?) We have all caught the sun on our faces and feet.
I have a lot of new things to be doing this summer after taking on the allotment. There has been extra work, clearing the plots and turning the soil. I have planted potatoes (the first shoots have just popped up), two rows of kale, some courgette plants and runner beans. I find it actually to be very soothing to be at the allotment. It is usually just the three of us, and Pip running around near the compost looking for the rabbits.
This is our last summer here are Bent Corner. It is a home which will always mean a great amount to me. It is where I became myself in so many ways, the first time I was able to have a home of my own and to live by myself. This is the place where my daughters were born, where I was pregnant. I have so much to be grateful and thankful for, having lived beneath this very kind and friendly roof.
Meanwhile our new home is slowly being uncovered from layers and years of strange make-overs and modernisations. In place of pine, there is the original stone fireplaces and oak beams. It has been quite scary, seeing the house being peeled and stripped and knocked and chiselled, but slowly it is coming to life and beginning to smile.
I smile with it.